Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Music Teacher David Cona Named District Teacher of the Year
Always with a guitar in his hand and a song in his heart, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School music teacher and choir director David Cona really had something to sing about on January 27, 2020, when he learned that he had been named the District’s 2019-20 Teacher of the Year. Cona now will be in consideration for Gloucester County Teacher of the Year honors.
A 29-year educator who has spent the past 17 years in the Washington Township School District, Cona holds a bachelor of science degree in music education from West Chester University and a master of arts from Walden University. On any given day, you will hear him before you see him, and turn the corner to find him at the entry to his classroom, strumming and serenading and welcoming his students into class.
“While I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I became enthralled with every aspect of music- playing, listening, learning - and was fascinated by how it related to so many other subjects like, math, history, social studies and science,” Cona said. “Music is something that makes us truly human, so I became dedicated to the idea that music should be accessible to everyone.”
Through moves in the District from Bells Elementary School to Washington Township High School to his current role at Thomas Jefferson Elementary, Cona has fostered a personal connection to music and infused technology into his lessons to enable all types of leaders to have access to the curriculum. He has given seminars to help his colleagues do the same. He has aligned the music curriculum with the general education science, social studies and math curricula to make students’ experiences more engaging and comprehensive. He has authored numerous curricula, led professional development at the District, county and state level, has self-published method books and created a digital textbook on Apple’s iBook store.
Under his direction, Cona’s students produce dramatic poetry readings, original songs in many styles, theme and variations, limericks and raps. His fifth-grade drama students are empowered to take ownership of their own production from conception through script writing, music selection, choreography, set design and props. The production is a fantastic culmination of the first six years of the students’ music education.
“The very basic tenet of my instruction is that all students control their own creativity,” he said. “Throughout my instruction, students make the creative decisions. They learn that they control the aesthetic. They control the process. I consider it a tremendous accomplishment when my students leave my classroom feeling free and confident to create their own work of art. They understand that the creative process is a messy, meandering road, full of hard work, risk and reflection, and they are enthusiastic to try.”
“Mr. Cona is a phenomenal and dynamic educator,” District supervisor of visual and performing arts Casey Corigiliano said. “His knowledge of music pedagogy is exceptional, and all his students benefit from the depth of his expertise. He is a dedicated member of the visual and performing arts team in our District, having taught at both the elementary and high school levels. He is most deserving of this distinction and honor.”
“Our students truly love Mr. Cona,” TJ principal Gary Breen said. “He has the unique ability to adapt his teaching style to match the age level of the children in his class throughout the day, from the bunny hop to music composition. His highly engaging lessons are crafted to meet the needs of every learner in each class through his use of music, movement and hands-on experiences with a variety of instruments. Knowing the impact music has on learning, Mr. Cona shared his desire to create songs using familiar tunes, which help young learners remember how to spell new sight words. On his own time, he composed and recorded each song, which he shares with students during his class and with his colleagues for use in their own classrooms to help with this skill through his unique and creative learning hook. It’s amazing to see this in action, as I watch young writers figure out how to spell these words by singing the songs that Mr. Cona taught them in class.”
“I find teaching to be a creative process,” Cona said. “I break that process down into four steps: practice, trying new ideas, evaluation, and reflection. I want my students to know that it is not only perfectly fine to make mistakes, it is essential. Being creative requires taking risks. Learning from what doesn’t work is sometimes far more instructive than being told what does. It teaches us that success is a blessing, and that failure is an opportunity to learn.”
“Fear not failure.” Sounds like the beginning of a new song that someday soon may be articulated and set to music by David Cona - musician, composer and teacher extraordinaire.
District supervisor of visual and performing arts Casey Corigliano (left) and Thomas Jefferson principal Gary Breen (right) posed with Thomas Jefferson and District Teacher of the Year David Cona.